Badami Bagh mob attack signals need to take religious fanaticism seriously
Nothing can be more damning and disgraceful – for a country called the Islamic Republic of Pakistan – than the mob attack on the Christian neighbourhood in Lahore this Saturday over an alleged blasphemy issue. There is no way this incident can be explained and justified to the outside world as it is not an isolated occurrence. It has almost become a recurring phenomenon. As if the Gojra carnage was not enough as an indelible stigma on the face of the state and the negation of the Islamic teachings, we now have the Badami Bagh episode where the enraged mob took it upon itself to punish the entire population of the locality for an alleged act of blasphemy by an individual. The incident has come as a rude shock to the people of Pakistan, who believe in the lofty principles and teaching of Islam and social harmony. No words would be enough to condemn this dastardly act seemingly a sequel to a dispute between two former friends, a Muslim and a Christian, who even used to drink together. The shopkeepers of the market where the conflicting parties were running businesses reported that the two had a long standing dispute. On the face of it, the accuser found it convenient to exploit the religious sentiments of the people and the Blasphemy Law in vogue to take revenge from the accused, who belongs to the Christian community. The incident has not only further damaged the image of Islam but has also dented reputation of Pakistan as a progressive Islamic state where minorities enjoy protection of life and property as equal citizens in the light of Islamic teachings.
The bestiality enacted at Gojra against the Christian community would put to shame even Adolf Hitler, the architect of the Holocaust. The most sordid aspect of that gory incident was that those who were lynched and whose houses were subjected to arson, were not involved in any alleged desecration. The carnage, ostensibly carried out to uphold the sanctity of the Holy Quran, against the very teachings of the Holy Book itself, is yet another manifestation of the religious bigotry, intolerance and hatred against minorities, afflicting our social fabric. In Surah al-Maidah, the Quran enjoins Muslims to do justice and shun hatred against other communities in these words: “Oh Ye who believe, be steadfast witness for Allah in equity and let not hatred of any people seduce you that ye deal not justly, that is nearer to your duty.” According to the details of the circumstances leading to the pogrom and the barbarity let loose on the Gojra attack victims, the imam of the mosque in village Korian was the architect of the senseless blood-letting. He was the one who incited people to avenge the desecration of Holy Quran by “the Christian community,” without bothering to ascertain the circumstances or the exact nature of the incident. Lashkare Jhangvi also got involved to take advantage of the situation. It is now an established fact that no adult member of the Christian community had committed any act of blasphemy. Rather some Christian children had cut out some pages of Islamiat textbook and used them as confetti at a wedding ceremony in the village, unaware of the consequences of such an act. The Rimsha Maseeh incident in Islamabad last year also stemmed from the wrong use of the religious pulpit by a religious fanatic.
What is noteworthy about these incidents is that most of them have happened in Punjab over the years which indicates unchecked rise of religious extremism in the province. Granted that the desecration of the Holy Quran and making offensive comments about the Holy Prophet is an emotional issue for Muslims and constitutes blasphemy, if committed deliberately by an individual or an organization with an explicit purpose to offend the Muslim community. Even then there is no justification whatsoever to the people to take the law in their own hands and perpetrate mob justice on offenders. There are laws in the country to deal with such matters and it is the responsibility of the state to initiate action against the accused person or persons and the accused has the right to be given a chance to defend themselves. That is how the Islamic system of justice and the law of the land envisages the dispensing of justice. It is however satisfying to note that the President, Prime Minister have taken a serious notice of the incident and directed for a through probe and stern action against the perpetrators of the crime. The Punjab Chief Minister has also announced compensation for affected families and requested for the formation of a judicial commission to hold a probe into the incident. This sounds encouraging. However, the time has come for taking concrete and decisive measures to ensure that such incidents do not recur in the future. Moreover, the Punjab government must show spine to enforce a policy of zero tolerance against the exploitation of the Blasphemy Law and check the spread of religious fanaticism in the province.
We have had enough of it. We need to stop the merchants of death in their tracks right now and forestall their efforts to propagate and spread their fissiparous ideologies. The government and the civil society has to stand up and refuse to be hostages to the bizarre brand of Islam bandied around by the religious fanatics and militant outfits. A loud and clear message should go out to them that there will be zero tolerance against their creed of hate and violence. As a first step the government should ensure to make an example out of those who are found guilty of inciting the people to such despicable actions. There is also a need to revisit the Blasphemy Law to make sure that no body is able to exploit it to settle personal enmities. We, as a nation, also need to fight the menace on the ideological front. The ulema and media have a significant role to play in erasing the influence of the ideologies preached by religious extremists and creating awareness among people about the true spirit of Islam and its emphasis on building a harmonious society, boasting peace and tranquility as its hallmarks.
The writer is an academic.